Fillon and Copé : A Politically Correct Debate

Jean-François Copé and François Fillon.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ M.L Nguyen

The broadcast debate organized last Thursday October 25 between former Prime Minister François Fillon, and the Secretary General of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), Jean-François Copé did not round up a large audience (2.3 million people watched.) Even though 65% of the UMP activists hoped it would help them to make a choice for the election of the party president on November 18, the debate did not accomplish its goal.

The debate, if there was one, was full of pretense and conducted in a “politically correct” atmosphere to maintain a united image of the party. In the end if one needs to pick up a winner, it would probably be the UMP, which had more than two hours to denounce the left-wing decisions.

Generally, Copé presented himself as the “first among militants” and “first among opponents” against the policies conducted by the Parti Socialiste (PS) majority. Along the same line, Fillon talked about a France at the edge of a “political crisis”. He said, “we are in a country extremely divided, fragile and who is questioning its future.”

Following the criticisms on his remarks about pain-au-chocolat and Ramadan, which provoked the extreme media responses and ridicule of social networks, Copé said he was against a “right-wing complex, which is in a false decency, who is afraid of the scathing editorial of the Parisian press.” With this “anti-white racism” discourse he tried to collect the votes of the UMP supporters in favor of a certain radicalism. He added, “what is secularism? This is the freedom for each person to practice his religion, under the condition that he respects the others and that he respects the Republic…There are villains who are committing acts of violence for nothing.”

He also reminded that he took part in the vote of the law that forbids women from wearing the burqa and refused to admit he may have hurt the Muslim community with his story about white children seeing their pains-au-chocolats stolen at school during the Ramadan. Fillon did not directly condemn his comments but did say, “I wouldn’t have said it like that.”

Nevertheless, the former Prime Minister still reminded the audience about his project to institute an immigration quota, warning the public against the rise of “ghettos with men and women who do not feel French, who are uprooted in some way.” Fillon, often accused to be the “Hollande of the right wing,” (implying he is too limp), took the opportunity to make clear that he is clearly from the right wing, stressing the fact that he was the Prime Minister under Sarkozy for five years. “I am not a centrist,” he claimed.

But the two candidates agreed on the necessity of repealing the future law legalizing gay marriage in France, taking thus into account the recent strikes against the government bill. Fillon added: “This is not a bill upon which I consider there is no need to revert when there will be a change of majority. Because upon a subject like this one, one cannot consider that once the text is voted things are acquired.” However, such a change in the law would be really difficult to make without breaching the Constitution.

A known point of divergence between the two politicians was tackled when the journalists asked what they would advise in the case of an opposition between the PS and the extreme-right party Front National (FN) at the second round of an election. Fillon answered, “I would never vote for the FN and I would never call for a vote in favor of this party,” but “I do not put the PS and the FN on the same plane.” He voted against the FN in the 2002 presidential elections.

For the future, the mayor of Beaux (Copé) said his priority would be the municipal elections of 2014, while the Parisian deputy (Fillon) said his candidature in Paris was not out of the question, even though he seemed more concerned about the next UMP elections that will take place 2017.

Concerning these elections, Copé continuously affirmed he would support Nicolas Sarkozy if they were contenders. His colleague guaranteed a united picture of the UMP, saying, “when the moment comes, I will be with the one who will have more chances to make our family win. If this is Nicolas Sarkozy, I will be with him, if it is Jean-François I will be with him, and I hope that if it is me, Jean-François will be with me,” to which the latter was forced to reluctantly answer “No problem.”

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